Cricket’s own rainbow revolution

Published: 15 November 2017

The Project Austin Robertson on World Series Cricket
The Project Austin Robertson on World Series Cricket
You're watching The Project Austin Robertson on World Series Cricket 40 years after Kerry Packer tore the cricket world apart with his rebel league that introduced night games, coloured balls and (gasp) decent pay, one of the architects of WSC reflects on that time.

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40 years since Packer’s World Series

Coloured clothing was adopted by some earlier than others
Image from 1977 poster

40 years ago, cricket was a very different game to the one we know today.

One-day internationals were a rare occurrence, and no-one had even dreamed of Twenty20. Batsmen didn’t wear helmets, games under lights at night sounded fanciful… and even the most high-profile player in the world, fast bowler Dennis Lillee, earned just $7500 per year from playing cricket.

Enter media mogul Kerry Packer, desperate to secure some cricket for broadcast on Channel 9. But the Australian Cricket Board felt loyalty to the ABC, and turned down his million-dollar plus offer.

Packer managed to secure broadcast of the Australian 1977 tour of England, but with the ACB trying to undermine his negotiations, he went underground to secretly arrange an “exhibition series” – an idea presented to him by former WA footy star Austin Robertson and John Cornell, Lillee’s then manager and best known as Paul Hogan’s sidekick, “Strop”.

Assisted by recently retired Australian captain Ian Chappell and England captain Tony Grieg, Packer secretly signed dozens of the world’s best players for an “exhibition series” between Australia and the Rest of the World the following Australian summer. When this hit the press in May 1977, the game was torn apart.

Australian players signed to Packer’s exhibition matches were banned from playing the test matches for Australia – and Packer was forbidden from using the term “test match”, calling his team “Australia” or even using the official laws of cricket.

World Series Cricket, now featuring an Australian XI, a West Indies XI and a World XI, got off to a slow start, but by the 1978-79 season, with the official Australian test team hollowed out and being thrashed by a touring English side, crowds were flocking to WSC “Supertests” and day-night matches featuring white balls and coloured clothing.

The brutal fast bowling attacks of the Australian and West Indian teams had batsmen trying to find ways to protect their heads. Englishman Dennis Amiss started wearing a motorcycle helmet, followed soon by Tony Grieg, and it wasn’t long before cricket-specific helmets were developed.

By 1979, the ACB was in financial crisis, and when Packer came to them to hammer out a deal, they were much more willing to listen. By the following Australian summer, the World Series Cricket rebellion was over – but it was establishment cricket which had been changed forever.

Austin Robertson will be joining us tonight to talk about his new book Cricket’s Outlaws.